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Pursuing a Degree as an Older Adult

Going back to school as an adult with the mission to pursue a first-time degree or enhance career potential can be an intimidating prospect, but it does not have to be. Arm yourself with information, get organized and explore all the options and you will likely discover a challenge you can readily tackle.

Before diving in, there are some things to consider. Here is what you need to know to set yourself up for success:

Entry Requirements

Entry requirements can vary, so be sure to understand what the college you’re interested in requires. Some schools, for example, require the SAT, ACT or another entrance exam. Others, such as New England College, do not.

Most schools will ask to see transcripts from high school or any college-level work that’s been completed. Tracking these down requires contacting the schools you’ve attended for assistance. There’s also a service called Parchment that enables online ordering of high school and college transcripts.  

Paying for it All

Financing a college education can be one of the biggest obstacles. There are options available that can help offset the burden. Be sure to look into:

Scholarships and Grants

As more adults find themselves earning first-time degrees or going back to school to enhance their skills, there is no shortage of scholarships and grants available. In some cases, these funding tools are designed specifically for mature students. Programs such as the AARP Foundation Women’s Scholarship and the Displaced Homemaker Scholarship can take a bite out of the bottom line. Check with the school’s financial aid office for a complete rundown of the options available.

Federal Aid

Even if you’re paying for your degree in cash, you’ll want to fill out a Free Application for Federal Student Aid. Here are three things you need to know about the FAFSA:

  • It’s easy – Though the application used to require lots of time to fill out and tons of paperwork, that’s no longer the case. The new, online version offers direct access into the IRS database, so importing accurate financials is simple.

  • It helps with more than loans – Even if you have the ability to pay for classes on your own, fill out the application. FAFSA is about more than loans. This tool is used to distribute federal and state grants, which offset costs without requiring payback.

  • Awards can be adjusted – While FAFSA determinations are based on the previous year’s tax returns, most colleges can help when life events, such as divorce or death, dramatically change the numbers in the present year. Talk with a financial aid advisor for help.

Other Challenges to Overcome

There are some other obstacles to consider, but they can easily be overcome through planning and a little bit of self-discipline. Here are a few things to consider:

  • Time management – Juggling the demands of adult life along with school can be tough. Set a schedule that works and consider taking online classes that afford more flexibility.

  • Organization – Getting organized is critical for success. Make sure to set a space to study, block out time for the task and consider using organizational apps such as Remember the Milk to keep up with it all.

  • Study skills – These might be a little rusty, but with a concerted effort toward organization and strong time management, getting back into a study routine shouldn’t be difficult.

Returning to college as an adult can be a challenge, but it’s easily overcome if you plan, prepare and set aside the time to achieve your goals. Online programs are very helpful in this case because they provide the flexibility adults need to best juggle all aspects of their lives while earning their degrees.

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